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Middle aged cellist Louka (Zdenek Sverak) has his life and his cynicism up-ended when a friendly grave-digger (Ondrez Vetchy) proposes that he marry his distant Russian niece (Irena Livanova) who needs Czech papers. No obligations. Just a signature in exchange for enough money to buy a small car and pay the rent. His bride quickly emigrates to Germany to join her lover, leaving behind her six year-old Russian son, Kolya (Andrej Chalimon), in Louka's at first reluctant care. He soon changes his tune.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Avoiding schmaltz and the overblown sentimentality that would prove its downfall, Kolya is a triumph of nuances for the father (writer and co-star) and son (director) Sveraks: they have given us emotion, not sentimentality, and quite a few good laughs as well. Zdenek Sverak plays the bachelor cellist who is forced to care for a little boy, and he deals with the intimate and tiny details of the lives around them. The film makers bring our attention to the inner world of a small group of people in such an honest and compassionate way that it is impossible not to feel for them, even the grave digger trying to do a strictly business marriage deal for a relative. The hardship of everyday life in 1988 Prague provides a taut socio-political setting for the gentle yet down to earth nature of the film, in which nothing is glamorised, yet cynicism is absent. This is very good cinema. It is filled with superb performances, none better than the tiny boy played by Andrej Chalomin, marvellous music (lot of welcome Dvorak, of course), and carried throughout by an economical yet fully realised script, with its bitter sweet tone, its playful observations of humanity and the absence of manipulative devices. 

The film’s sincerity and humanity is echoed in the 20 minute featurette on the DVD, which has the unhurried feel of a documentary, not the usual rush of a promo clip. I could have wished for more of the director and his father the writer/star talking about the filmmaking process itself (they are also subtitled), but they discuss the all important screenplay is detail. In his quiet way, Jan Sverak adds a thoughtful insight into his idiosyncrasies and filmmaking peccadillos. 

Published May 1, 2003

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CAST: Zdenek Sverak, Andrej Chalimon, Libuse Safrankova, Stella Zazvorkova, Irena Livanova, Lilian Mankina, Ondrez Vetchy

DIRECTOR: Jan Sverak

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9; Dolby Digital 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Scenes featurette


DVD RELEASE: April 9, 2003

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